We're Going to Shame This Country Before the World...This Can't Go on as Normal
Extremely heavy snowfall on January 24 forced postponement of the Northeast Regional Stop Mass Incarceration conference, creating schedule conflicts. Still, 50 people came together to plan spring actions to mobilize students to stop police terror, and to work on building infrastructure for SMIN in 2016. Participants included two women whose children were killed by police; students from three campuses; former prisoners; mothers of incarcerated sons; clergy, prison chaplains and social justice activists from storefront and famous churches. Teachers who work in communities plagued by police terror and mass incarceration; Revolution Club members; Occupy activists, people newly active from RiseUpOctober; anarchists and artists were part of the group from all five boroughs of NYC, Maryland, Philadelphia and New Jersey.
The mission SMIN has set for this spring is to organize students and campuses to STOP police terror. The conference viewed Carl Dix's message to an earlier Midwest regional conference, “We're in a Genocidal Emergency and We Gotta Stop It.” Several hundred attended five regional conferences called by SMIN over two weeks. Representatives from 30 campuses, 26 families of people killed by police; and activists from dozens of organizations working to stop police murder and mass incarceration took steps to firm up the national movement.
Morales brought a lot of his own life experience into the room on this, including when he wore a black armband in 1968 to protest the war in Vietnam as a high school student. He described campuses in the 1960's being metaphorically “on fire,” alive with protest, standing up and questioning the lies they've been told, running CIA recruiters off campus, taking over buildings. In 1970, when US invaded Cambodia, 400 campuses were shut down by protest.
Why, he asked? “Because we saw what was going on as genocide of people in Southeast Asia. And what is going on right now? Look at the poisoned water the government provided people in Flint, Michigan. Some people saying this is a genocide – they knew and were told that water was poisoned with lead. The authorities say the children are just going to lose a few IQ points, no big deal. These children are permanently brain damaged! A system that systematically murders Black and Latino people, condemns to mass incarceration, created a situation where people can’t survive – look up the definition of genocide: 'in whole or in part people cannot survive and thrive.' What's going on in Flint, it's genocide, and what's going on to Black people is genocidal.”
Only months ago, students across the country actually took over offices, went on day long strikes, and gathered by the thousands to protest openly racist threats and white supremacy directed at Black students. At the University of Missouri, Mizzou, when black students went on hunger strike and blockaded during Homecoming to protest, “First black football players said they weren’t going to play, and then white players and their coach supported them. There has never been a football strike over political issues. Football players don’t have the best reputation...but this is what these students did,” Morales said, in stressing the potential and urgent need to get to students. Cheers for the Mizzou Students and football team
People were stirred by this discussion, and many wanted to talk. A woman from The Bronx, who said she had been stuck at home for years with 5 kids, said the police killing of Eric “Garner got me crazy. I was at a community college and I ran into the revolution. They showed me the poster of police terror, and that hit me like a ton of bricks. It really hit me; suddenly it's refreshing to have all these diverse allies. Before I didn’t have any power, now I am seeing I have people with me. I saw that event in October at Columbia University, listening to Eve Ensler about what they were doing to mentally ill African American women. Hearing the story just killed me. I am here now, and I’m going to fight.”
Committees were formed to reach out to students, and to organize the NO More Stolen Lives tour, made up of both family members of those killed by police, and organizers, to speak to student groups at five NYC campuses; at schools in Boston, Baltimore and Washington DC, and also to faith communities. No More Stolen Lives Tour
Discussion on going to campuses brought out differences over how to approach students. An older SMIN activist who works across Brooklyn to get people to stand up, made a call out to the students, “We have started a movement to liberate the people...We can't accept the brainwashing of the people even in the colleges. I'm saying to everyone, you have this information at your fingertips. We need to formulate speaking clubs about the issues and what’s wrong.”
Some proposed to make this issue “personal” for the students by talking about how they could be busted for smoking pot, or to draw them into the movement by speaking to all the problems they have with student debt. They feel that students and most people just do not care about police terror, so we have to relate this to the problems that they see as most urgently affecting them. The logic of this view is that no basis exists for the campuses to become hotbeds of resistance and struggle against police terror.
But an NYU student talked about his experience at RiseUpOctober, his first protest as a freshman. He worked hard getting the word out to students living in his huge dorm about the November 22 protest on the anniversary of the Cleveland police killing of Tamir Rice, and found that “a lot of people have not experienced this.” He was disheartened that very few came out to protest, and attributed that to lack of knowledge, and apathy. Nevertheless, he is planning a discussion among those who are interested, and has strategic plans to reach specific groups of students, with the approach that “if you know, you have to take action.”
The plan that came out from the conference is to pose the following question to students and others: in what kind of world do you want to live? Many do not now want to live in a world of police terror directed against Black and Latino people, or can be won to oppose this terror by having their eyes opened to this reality and challenged to stop it. This is where the No More Stolen Lives tour comes in. The conference also strongly endorsed the use of the “stolen lives” poster, picturing those killed by police. One of the people from the faith community, a chaplain, made the point that when she came to the November 22 Childrens' march for Tamir Rice, on the anniversary of his killing by Cleveland police, she saw the Stolen Lives banner. She only recognized three names. The fact that she did not know about any of these other cases hit her really hard. This was part of her wanting to get involved in this movement.
Taking on political repression against protesters, Shutting Down Rikers & getting organized. Others worked on setting up infrastructure for SMIN locally and nationally. A core of a staff volunteered to do some of the necessary communications work to keep people in touch with each other,plan events, raise funds, and garner media attention.
A key way of building organization, it was proposed, is by defending those arrested unjustly by the authorities in protests. When RiseUpOctober held an action October 23, 2015 to #ShutDownRikers, 16 were arrested when the NYPD blocked off the entrance to Rikers. 14 of the arrests were resolved with no criminal charges, but Miles Solay and Clark Kissinger face serious misdemeanor charges. In fact, while correction officers have been found repeatedly to have been involved in the deaths and abuse of many prisoners at Rikers, Miles and Clark are facing more time – a potential of one year in Rikers – than any guards who actually committed crimes. The Shut Down Rikers Fact Sheet
SMIN will go to other organizations and activists working to shut down Rikers, oppose solitary confinement, stop abuse of juvenile prisoners and women prisoners, calling on everyone to demand thatthe city Shut Down Rikers, and drop the charges on Miles & Clark. An SMIN leader whose son was held in Rikers spoke of how many people are affected by Rikers, with more than 13,000 prisoners held on any one day, multiplied by families and friends who see what they go through there. A theater professional suggested a plan for subway outreach to help make the need to shut down Rikers even more real.
More information on Stop Mass Incarceration Network's plans for 2016 at stoppoliceterror.org